Smiles and Shadows

The New York day was jammed – with heat, with tourists, with smells, and with action.  Three museums, two plays, a movie, and a partridge…

Best of all though was walking the streets and letting New York happen.

Seeing “Skeleton Crew” by Dominique Morrisseau was brilliant enough in itself-so assuredly written and acted, characters thick with their (extra)ordinary struggles that transcend when put in Detroit in 2008.  The genuine acknowledgement of the craft at its peak with sustained applause through two curtain calls.  The wonder of discovering a gloriously talented playwright.

After, I had nowhere to be fast or slow.  As I strolled out the door onto the sweltering street, I smiled at a woman sitting on her stoop (Atlantic is on a residential street in Chelsea), and she smiled.

A tiny women, all bent over, asked, “so how was it?”

“Excellent”…”so good,” a young man and I answered together.

“I’ll get my ticket,” she said tottering toward the theater.

The young man, so pretty and sweet and gay and put together, and I compared notes, admiring the playwright, whom he worked with when he first moved to the City.  Turns out he’s 39, although he looked 23 at most, and an actor.  Of course.   We chatted amiably until parting for the next adventure.

I turned the corner, scanning for Blossom where I was planning to have a vegan burger with the onion ring and vegan bacon inside–crunchy and yummy by the way.  I stopped in front of a movie theater playing “Love and Friendship.”

Nothing feels so good as the cinema on a really beastly day.  Okay, I thought, I’ll just see what time it’s playing.

In 30 minutes.  So I got a ticket, now involving selecting an exact seat.

“You have such beautiful diction,” commented the ticket sales woman.

“I narrate for the blind.”

“See there?  I’m so smart.  I just at knew it,” she said proudly, handing over my ticket as she peered over her cheaters with a smile.

I smiled right back, then went outside to find Blossom.  The girl working as a greeter at the entrance to the theater looked with me across the street.  “I don’t know it,” she mourned, throwing her hands up in resignation.

I went across the street anyway in search and found its tiny storefront camouflaged behind the only tree on the block.

After my burger, I found the same girl stationed by the door, and she seemed delighted I came back to report to her.  We shared a moment about that tree.

The movie based on Jane Austen’s Lady Susan promised to be her most biting, with its true antiheroine.  But alas it was unfinished, and the movie feels the same.  Its sour cynicism is enormously amusing though.

After, even though the evening was still oppressively hot, I decided to walk the 20 blocks to the Broadway theater.  Still in Chelsea, virtually everyone responded to my sparkly glasses and goofy grim with a smile right back.  The tall, slim young man waiting for the 8th Ave bus, the bagel peddler, the barista selling iced, cold brew coffee.

My first sip exploded like a crunched, toasted coffee bean in my mouth, round, smooth, and strong.  Was anything ever so delicious?

Of course, entering the Penn Station  area, then Times Square, sobered me up fast, and I got back to people watching with my game face on.  The two girls, all brown flesh and swagger, in their rainbow-colored, twisted balloon crowns.  The three sailor boys in their Navy whites.  Wait!  One was a girl, her blonde hair braided and tucked under her cocked cap, and her thin, wire-rimmed glasses just cloaking her Times-Square-neon blue eyes.  The long, sweaty lines of theater goers waiting for that first whoosh of theater-cold air and relief.

Summer in New York can be horrible, but its neighborhoods and people never are.  The best part of any day.

Wonderful exhibits.  I was captured by the shadows, creating new works of art.

Moholy-Nagy, Twisted Planes, plexiglass and steel, 1946

Moholy-Nagy, Twisted Planes, plexiglass and steel, 1946 at the Guggenheim

Hellenistic Wrestlers

Hellenistic Wrestlers at the Met

Zeus' head and fist

Zeus’ head and fist at the Met

Greek theatrical masks

Greek theatrical masks at the Met

The Russian Thing and People Watching

Before Memorial Day, the beaches are still possible.  I hadn’t been to Brighton Beach before, so grabbed the opportunity to check out the densely-Russian-populated neighborhood in Brooklyn.

We stopped at La Brioche, which would seem to be French, but was full of interesting pastries of Eastern Europe origin.  I got a cheese filled thing and a pistachio cookie.  Very tasty and definitely worth the stop.  Once my handful of pastries was weighed, I owed a dollar.  Now that’s a bargain.

After a walk on the Boardwalk, we stopped at Tatiana’s to eat.  It’s right there, which is what makes it worth it, as I found the food too salty.  Never one to ignore kitsch, I just had to show you this gal pointing to the Tatiana’s restroom.  So chic.

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2016-05-22 13.20.22We poked in a few stores, and there was kitsch galore.  Lots of nesting dolls, although even I couldn’t resist this one, with its bottle of vodka hidden inside, for $7.  Now what do I do with that vodka?

I also thought this chess set was funny.  Hand painted in Russia, it features the U.S. presidents on one side (see if you can identify them all) and the Russian presidents on the other.  A perfect Cold War emblem, bringing back all those memories of the Spassky-Fischer matches.


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The walk from Brighton to Coney on the boardwalk only takes 10 to 15 minutes, and although the day was gray, the temperature was perfect.  I enjoyed the stretch between the two hubs, where things were a bit quieter.

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A quick stop to the New York Aquarium was in order.  A lot of it was under construction, but I still was mesmerized by the fish, got a jolt of energy from the joy the children took from the place, and laughed at the sheer cuteness of the otters.

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I’ve decided Coney is wonderful anytime.  I’ve captured it before mid-winter when it was empty and a bit eerie, in a compelling way.

Today, I just enjoyed people, kite, and mango watching.

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I watched this woman make her mango flowers for quite awhile.  She sold them just about as fast as she could make them, but for one moment, she had a small collection.  You can see how she displays them on her cart.

She was lovely about allowing me to film her carving the fruit.  She is a sculptor, for sure!




A day at the beach is a timeless thing in many ways.  It makes my heart happy.



Freedom, Tolerance, Acceptance

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The oldest surviving Colonial American synagogue is in Newport, representing Rhode Island’s commitment to religious, political, and personal freedom.  With the contentiousness and ridiculous attack on civil liberties by the presumed Presidential candidate, how refreshing to reconnect to principle American values.

Even George Washington thought so, writing a letter to the Hebrew congregation of Touro Synagogue stating “To Bigotry, No Sanction.”

With the Spanish Inquisition, specifically the Alhambra decree after their civil war declaring that all Spaniards must be Catholic, some Jews converted (Conversos), others pretended to convert but dangerously still practiced Judaism (Cryptos), and others fled.  This diaspora generally took Jews to Portugal, which soon found the similar need to Catholicize, and then Amsterdam, famously tolerant until the Portuguese took it over.

Fleeing the Portuguese again, the first Jews came to New York in 1654 and were barely tolerated by Peter Stuyvesant who enacted severe restrictions on Jewish involvement in civic life.  The next group decided to test Rhode Island, known for its separation of church and state.  Soon Cryptos were coming out by leaving Spain for Newport.  By 1677, the Newport group had enough demand to buy land for a burial ground.


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By 1763, the Sephardic congregation wanted a Rabbi and couldn’t find one willing to come to the hinterlands from progressive Amsterdam.  Until Isaac Touro, who hadn’t finished his training, came and became the namesake for the newly built synagogue.  The location is not off in some periphery, but adjacent to Newport’s historic center (just as its congregants were central to Newport life).

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What a beauty!  I’m a complete sucker for anything Palladio-inspired, and so was the architect Peter Harrison.  The Italian architect Palladio created pattern books, so his style spread through the European-connected cultures.  The secret was to know how to place the parts from the patterns.  Balance, symmetry, harmony are the principles.  Nice with the freedom, tolerance, and acceptance that Rhode Island embodied.

You can see how lovely the space is, with its dentil molding, arched Palladian windows, the ancient-Greek-inspired pediment, balustrades, and Ionic columns on the men’s level and Corinthian columns on the women’s balcony (yes, this was always and still is an Orthodox congregation).  Each column is a solid tree, smoothed before painted.

Harrison had to work with more than Palladio’s pattern books to design for the needs of the congregation.  He may be turning over in his grave with the asymmetrical placement of the President’s box, where important people including JFK, Eisenhower, and presumably George Washington attended services. When the President of the congregation has been a woman, she, alas, sits upstairs, not in the downstairs box.  Some things just can’t be tolerated apparently.

The raised bemah placed in the center of the space for the Rabbi is a Sephardic tradition.  Opening the ark housing the Torah and bringing it to the Rabbi for the reading involves a short procession.  This synagogue’s Torah was already 200 years old when it was brought from Amsterdam in 1763, and we got a quick glance at its browned pages.

1760s eternal light and candlesticks bought for a bar mitzvah, by the bimah

1760s eternal light and candlesticks bought for a bar mitzvah, by the bimah

Throughout the centuries and today, the pull to America has been about freedom and the chance for a better life.  What a nice reminder that at some points in our history, those ideals were gloriously met, for the greatest good of all involved.

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The semester is over, and as students yahoo into their summers, I feel a bit wistful.  Transitions are like that.  I turned to current Connecticut exhibits for insights, solace, release, inspiration, and pure joy.  Here’s what I can share with you.

Martin Lewis, Dawn, Sandy Hook, Connecticut, 1933, Flo Gris

Martin Lewis, Dawn, Sandy Hook, Connecticut, 1933, Florence Griswold Museum

Martin Lewis, one of my favorite under-known artists, marks that transition from day to night, the walk from the commuter train and New York City into suburban Connecticut.  It’s cheerless and lonely, but the sky promises something fresh and new.  I see that commuter taking off his coat and hat for springtime.

So I turned my closet around, putting bright spring and summer clothes out front, pushing those winter darks into the corners.  I remembered things I forgot I had and saw what new outfits I can create.

Claudia DeMonte, La Donna di Buona Fortuna, 2013, bronze, Mattatuck Museum

Claudia DeMonte, La Donna di Buona Fortuna, 2013, bronze, Mattatuck Museum

And I got a bit more organized.

Claudia Demonte, Female Implements, 1995, Mattatuck Museum

Claudia Demonte, Female Implements, 1995, Mattatuck Museum

Join me in saying goodbye to skating in perfect harmony for now.

Miriam Anne Barer, The Skaters, 1943, egg tempera on masonite, Flo Gris

Miriam Anne Barer, The Skaters, 1943, egg tempera on masonite, Florence Griswold Museum

Because there are strawberries to eat…

Charles Ethan Porter, Strawberries, 1888, oil on canvas

Charles Ethan Porter, Strawberries, 1888, oil on canvas, Florence Griswold Museum

…and flowers to whiff, while the gentle spring sun tickles the tops of our heads.

Edward F. Rook, Laurel, c1905-8, oil on canvas

Edward F. Rook, Laurel, c1905-8, oil on canvas, Florence Griswold Museum

Remember that life starts over for us each season, too.

So give yourself a quiet moment to reflect.

J. Alder Weir, Portrait of Ella Baker Weir, c1910, oil on canvas, Lyman Allyn Museum

J. Alder Weir, Portrait of Ella Baker Weir, c1910, oil on canvas, Lyman Allyn Museum

Talk a walk somewhere new.

J. Alden Weir, U.S. Thread Company Mills, Wilimantic, CT, c1893-7, on view at the Lyman Allyn

J. Alden Weir, U.S. Thread Company Mills, Wilimantic, CT, c1893-7, on view at the Lyman Allyn

Try something a little crazy, just to shake out the old energy.

Salvador Dali's Alice in Wonderland, on view at New Britain Museum of American Art

Salvador Dali’s Alice in Wonderland, on view at New Britain Museum of American Art

Write your thoughts upside down or in a funny shape.  What’s new about what it says now?

Excerpt, Salvador Dali's Alice in Wonderland

Excerpt, Salvador Dali’s Alice in Wonderland

Sometimes I just need to reframe something.  And then it’s new all over again!

Harry Holtzman, Open Relief, 1983, oil on wood, stone, Florence Griswold Museum

Harry Holtzman, Open Relief, 1983, oil on wood, stone, Florence Griswold Museum

And I’m ready to keep going…

Happy Spring!

Button and Pie Memories

Today, New York was the stage for nostalgia, reminding me of my mother and my mother’s mother.

My grandmother was a seamstress, quite an extraordinary one according to my mother.  As a girl though, Mom hated wearing her mother’s hand-stitched garments to school, when all the other girls wore store bought.  How she regretted later that she didn’t have any of those garments when she would have appreciated the fine craft my grandmother practiced.

What she did have was her mother’s jar of buttons.

She and I would pull the jar out and gaze at it, jammed with all sizes and colors.  “Nothing ever wasted,” my mother told me, long after her mother had passed.

After my mother had gone, I opened that jar of buttons.  Big mistake!  It let out a stink so intense, it made made me choke.  Something like a cross between formaldehyde and a poorly cleaned public bathroom.  Phwew!

So I had to throw all those buttons, hundreds of them, away.  But not the memory.

Today, I made my first pilgrimage to Tender Buttons, a tiny store on the Upper East Side.

Nothing but buttons.


I bought a button for grandma, a button for mom, and a button for me.

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Czech glass for grandma, a rose for Mom, kitchen kitsch for me

The new musical Waitress is tangentially about pie.  Well, it’s a lot about pie.  Pie and love.

Jessie Mueller in Waitress

I think about pie and love and immediately think about my mother.  One of her best homemade dishes was peach or cherry pie.  While she rolled out the dough, I would have a little bit to play with.  “Roll it like a cigar,” I would giggle.

She would trim the edges of the crust dough, then re-roll that dough out, fill it with cinnamon and sugar, roll it into a log, slice it into little dimes, and bake them for my brother and me to snack on.  Better than the pie!

At the musical, a pie was baking when the doors opened for intermission.  Oh my, the aroma!

My seat mate encouraged me that getting some pie was worth it, and she was right.  The clever little jars of pie were peddled by diner waitresses around the theater.  Apple, key lime, and cookies and cream.  I went for the key lime.

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I certainly wasn’t alone.  Apparently, the baker makes 1000 pie jars per performance.  That’s a lot of happy audience members.  Like me!

Of course, the show was sweet, too –  all puns intended.  Lots of humor balanced the maudlin.  A great comic character is born with this show. Ogie has the two best numbers: “Never Ever Getting Rid of Me,” with its unforgettable choreography, and “I Love You Like a Table.”

Although the music is actually pretty forgettable, the whole experience is so full of delight, you might want to take your mother.

If you’re near her, give her a kiss on the cheek. If not, remember and tell a good story.  Happy Mother’s Day!